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REF NO.: 159
SUBJECT: PhD graduate examined history of print media in 19th century Newfoundland
DATE: May 27
When Maudie Whelan was asked by a fellow student why she left a career as a respected journalist to pursue a life of academic scholarship researching the history of journalism, she replied by saying, "If you don't understand how things are done in the past, you don't get a good grasp of what's done in the present. We have to ask ourselves, 'Why did things change.'"
Ms. Whelan, a history PhD candidate who is graduating tomorrow, worked as a journalist in British Columbia in print and Newfoundland in print and radio and as a freelancer for 25 years. She began her graduate academic career at Carleton University completing a MA focusing on journalism in Newfoundland from 1807 to1832. She then continued her research in journalism history from 1832 to 1899 at Memorial.
"Newspapers have been used extensively as sources by historians; however the newspapers have not been approached as a legitimate field of study in their own right," Ms. Whelan explained. "My thesis looks at the publishers and editors of the newspapers and their political agendas, their biases."
Her work examined approximately 25 different newspapers out of 100 papers produced at that time. Her research reveals the complexities of the press of the society it reflected and shaped. "The press was confined until the late 1870s to St. John's and Conception Bay on the Avalon Peninsula, the centre of government, trade, and commerce, and reinforced the differentiation between urban and rural," Ms. Whelan said.
Literacy improved over time, but the habit of reading newspapers remained the prerogative of the elite in urban centres where it had been cultivated. "Twillingate sustained a local newspaper, The Twillingate Sun, due in part, to the prevalence of wage-based industry, primarily mining, and a daily press in St. John's survived."
Ms. Whelan feels that there is still much work to be done in this relatively un-researched area and hopes that other students will continue the work she has begun. She is particularly interested in pursuing post-doctorate work on The Twillingate Sun and the history of journalism up to 1920.
As a mature student, Ms. Whelan finds herself more reflective than she was a young journalist. "I used to ask; 'what is?' now I ask 'what came before?'"
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